Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 134: The Garbage Nazis


There's a little circular filing cabinet under every writer's desk. It's where all the detritus of a day at the office ends up.

The one under mine currently holds some discarded notes, a section of the newspaper, two dead Tim Horton's cups, one plastic vacuum pack from a new thumb drive, one dead ballpoint pen, two plastic water bottles, one half chewed rawhide bone (not mine) with something growing on it, one Styrofoam wrapped juice bottle and an apple core.

Used to be you just dumped all of this in a bigger garbage can at the end of the day and then dumped that at the curb.

Not anymore.

Now we sort. Paper and plastic and organic and glass and cardboard all go into different piles that then go out to the curb in different colored boxes and/or different colored bags on different pick up days.

Hey, does this rawhide bone go in one box but what's on it have to get scraped into the organic bin?

It's all very confusing. And depending on where you live, what you are allowed to recycle is different or has even more rules around it.

I've been known to refer the people who make environmental rules as the Garbage Nazis, both for the way they want to control every aspect of our lives by what we use and/or discard, but because they deal in lies and fear and all other sorts of "garbage".

Last year, the City of Toronto's Garbage Nazis almost got into a war with the Tim Horton's coffee chain over the lids to their cups, which apparently COULD NOT under any circumstances be recycled because they were made of a kind of plastic deemed no longer allowed to exist on the planet.

Tim pointed out that every suburban city surrounding Toronto didn't have a problem with their lids. Didn't matter. The Nazis drew a line in the sand. Tim volunteered to take its coffee, jobs and massive tax contribution elsewhere. The Nazis decided the bad plastic could maybe just go into a new bin.

There are now so many different and regulated containers in Toronto people began complaining that there was no room in their yards and on their porches for all of them and the clutter was unsightly. The city's solution was to order they be kept indoors.

A few months ago, I helped a friend clear out his garage. And like the conscientious lovers of the planet that we are, we loaded up a ton of old paint cans and drove them to the "special place" that takes toxic materials.

A local Garbage Nazi who looked like he was also auditioning for the re-make of "Deliverance" eyeballed every paint can as it came off the truck, muttering something about making somebody squeal like a pig if latex got mixed with enamel or any of the drip marks clashed.

At one point he literally leapt at me as I lifted an old mayonnaise bottle of discarded paint thinner, blocking access to his precious piles of garbage.

"Hold it! We can't take that!"

I explained that it was just paint thinner as he trembled with fear, his hands outstretched to keep the jar from getting any closer.

"We can't take nothin' that ain't in the original container!", he insisted, his voice quavering. "There could be anything in there. Without an original container, we can't know what it might be. That's the rules."

I asked what I was supposed to do with it.

"Put it in your regular garbage. They'll take it to the landfill."

Really? I thought the whole point was to keep toxic stuff out of landfills.

Note to good self: Next time just dump it in a can with some paint it dissolves, neutralizing both of them a little.

Note to bad self: If you're ever a terrorist stuck with some spare atomic waste, just bag it and leave it at the curb.

More and more, however, the Garbage Nazis can't ever seem to decide what's really bad for us or how it ought to be handled.  Their zeal to save the planet from the likes of the rest of us is even starting to confuse them.

Where my dad lives, for example, they have very specific rules listing different ways different kinds of cardboard need to be sorted. Cereal boxes can't go with egg cartons and neither can go with orange juice cartons. Therefore, one breakfast = three different piles of recycled material. What's more, it all has to be tied with "non-rubber" fastening in packets "X" cm by "Y" mm by so many inches thick.

The people in his neighborhood have to buy perfectly good string that's only used to tie up their garbage.

They also tell a funny story about a garbage collector so incensed by constantly having to re-sort their wrongly placed recycling before it contaminated the wrong bin on his truck that he finally broke down in tears and had to be taken away.


In my neck of the woods, we have to pay for plastic shopping bags to keep them from forming a deadly vortex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that's now apparently bigger than the decaying Antarctic Ice Pack and a navigational danger to all the diesel burning freighters bringing toxic lead toys and tainted food into the country from China.

One of our food chains got all smug about a month ago, declaring that the new no bag policy had kept 3 billion plastic bags out of the ocean last year alone. And that meant they could donate a few thousand dollars to the World Wildlife Fund.

Nobody seemed to want to discuss how many billion more Glad bags had been sold instead so people could keep bagging dog poo, kitchen waste and old mayonnaise bottles of paint thinner.

And not that anybody would doubt the bookkeeping at any major grocery chain -- but given the number of bags people still pay for, if I was with the WWF, I'd be calling the folks who used to own that trademark to borrow some guys way bigger than endangered sea otters to have a chat with an accountant or two.

Yet, in the world of the Garbage Nazis, it seems there is never any solution to an environmental problem that does not create another problem they then need to devise a method to control as well.

During the recent heat wave, I watched one news report detailing how many Pandas are asphyxiated if I run the AC in my car for even a few minutes. Okay, I thought, liking Pandas as much as the next guy (maybe more), I'll just roll down the windows.

Uh-uh. Apparently that's almost as bad since it causes drag on the vehicle which increases its CO emissions which causes people with breathing problems to overburden the health care system which…

This nonsense just goes on and on, constantly implying there is no solution beyond only exhaling your own CO2 on alternate days.

But there are logical solutions.

Lots of them.

There are cities running their public buildings off garbage burning incinerators that don't leave any residue at all. One town down the road from me has paved its streets with what comes out the back end of their own garbage removal system, saving their citizens millions in taxes while creating no other problems with the environment.

And then there is this from Japan, a little box that turns one kilogram of plastic into one liter of oil. Just like that. Imagine a barge loaded with these bobbing in the Pacific, providing its own power and electricity while saving Floaty the Polar Bear from losing his igloo.

Pretty soon, there could be one of these in every home, driving down the cost of gas or electricity as well as the carbon going into the atmosphere while not increasing your blood pressure or the power of the Garbage Nazis.

Enjoy your Sunday.

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